Sharp-Tailed Snake - Contia tenuis
( Baird and Girard, 1852 )



Sharp-Tailed Snake Photo
Sharp-Tailed Snake Photo
No Map Available North America
Sharp-Tailed Snake Photo
Sharp-Tailed Snake Photo
No Map Available North America

Est. World Population:


Body Length: 8 - 18 inches
Tail Length:
Shoulder Height:

Top Speed:
Jumping Ability: (Horizontal)

Life Span: in the Wild
Life Span: in Captivity

Sexual Maturity: (Females)
Sexual Maturity: (Males)
Clutch Size: 2 - 9 eggs
Incubation Period:

At maximum, the Sharp-tailed Snake may grow to a length of 19 inches, but most adults are about 12 inches long. Shiny reddish-brown or gray scales above and a whitish line down the side characterize C. tenuis. An alternating pattern of black, pale greenish, gray, or cream bars can be found on its belly, and its smooth scales come in 15 rows around the body. The most distinguishing characteristic of this snake is the sharp spine-like scale at the tip of its tail. Although the function of this scale is not completely understood, it is thought to be used as an anchor during struggles with its victims.

Sharp-tailed Snakes occur in a variety of habitats, however, they are most commonly found in moist environments with an abundance of surface debris, such as twigs, roots, and leaves. The Sharp-tailed Snake is found in areas with surface moisture and it becomes active during the cool fall and winter temperatures. Because of their preference for cooler temperatures and higher moisture levels, C. tenuis is active at different times and in different microhabitats than most snakes. However, its range overlaps that of the Ring-neck Snake (Diadophis punctatus), and they can be found under the same cover at times. The Sharp-tailed Snake can be found mainly in wooded areas or near intermittent streams.

Biomes: savanna or grassland; chaparral; forest; mountains

The Sharp-tailed Snake is a North American species generally found in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range from southern California to southern British Columbia and along the Pacific Coast of California. In California, this species can be found in and along the mountains from Eureka to central San Luis Obispo, and along western slope of the Sierras in the foothills and at middle to low elevations (max altitude 7000 ft.).

Life Cycle:
Habitat requirements for reproduction are unknown. Mating of the Sharp-tailed Snake occurs in spring and in the summer it lays 3 - 8 eggs. There is evidence that indicates that on occasion, eggs are laid in communal nest sites. Hatching occurs in the fall, and the egg clutches can be found in 2.8 to 6 inches of soil, among grass roots and deep in rock outcrops.

Food & Hunting:
Slugs are the primary food of the Sharp-tailed Snake. Although there are no observations of C. tenuis preying on any other species, it is suggested that snails and small plethodontid salamanders may also be taken. The Sharp-tailed Snake may use the spine on its tail to brace itself while capturing its prey. Long, needle-like teeth on its mandibles are noted as an adaptation to gripping and eating slugs.

The Sharp-tailed Snake is a small, secretive, diurnal species, which moves around during the rainy season, from October through April. Even during its most active periods, C. tenuis tends to hide underneath rocks or any other cover it may find such as, logs, bark, twigs, or any cover in or around wooded areas. During the end of spring and through the summer months, they take refuge in burrows, and remain there until the moistened ground, from early rains, attracts them to the surface. There is no evidence of territoriality and individuals often aggregate at favorable sites. Several individuals can be found under a single small, flat rock. Predators include Steller's Jays and other diurnal birds, small mammals, and other snakes. A Brook trout has been seen capturing a Sharp-tailed Snake, which appears to be the only documented record of a fish eating a snake.

Similar Species:
Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake
Tantilla planiceps - Western Black-headed Snake

Stebbins, Robert C.. Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985
Basey, Harold. Discovering Sierra Reptiles and Amphibians. California: Yosemite Association/Heyday Books, 1991
Greene, Harry W. Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature. Berkeley & L.A., California: University of California Press, 2000
Mattison, Christopher. The Encyclopedia of Snakes. New York: Cassell Illustrated, 2002
Nussbaum, R., E. Brodie, R. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. University of Idaho Press, 1983

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Database Last Updated: 31 Dec 1969

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